Hazy Friday Links

  • Still thinking about going to see Avatar: The Last Airbender despite the terrible reviews?  Gene Luen Yang tells you why that’s a bad idea, in handy cartoon form!
  • Brendan Halpin wants us to take another look at how we use those high school stock characters: who says the football player has to be a bad guy?  Always good to be reminded not to fall into the easy traps of those stereotypical high school roles.
  • Really great post on white readers reading and responding to books by and about people of color.  What they boil it down to: stay aware of the fact that you are white, and remember that every book concerns ethnicity – even if we don’t neccesarily think about it that way because whiteness is the default for so many people.  (Hat tip to The Rejectionist)
  • After that last link, take a look at this essay on White Mind – it looks at how unconscious bias in white people’s perspectives, and applies it directly to children’s literature. (Hat tip to Neesha Meminger)
  • As long as Shannon Hale keeps being brilliant about books, I will keep linking to her.  This time it’s about how the power in stories comes from their openness.
  • Adam Rex and Editorial Anynomous both crack me up.  And here they are, together at last!  After reading, go watch the book trailers for Adam Rex’s excellent new book, Fat Vampire.  If you want me to watch book trailers, make them like this.
  • You’ve probably read Maureen Johnson’s Manifesto on branding in your online presence by now, right?  Just in case you haven’t, pretty please click here.
  • Elizabeth Bluemle put together a LibraryThing library of books that feature characters of color but are not specifically about race.  This is a great collection development tool – I’m using it as part of my goal to have my library’s collection more closely reflect the diversity of my community.
  • In the Horn Book, Ellen Wittlinger writes about the changes to the Lambda Literary Foundations’ book awards, and how she feels as a straight author who writes about queer characters and is no longer eligible for the award.  I think this is a tough question – at least for me, there is not a right or a wrong answer here.  I do think changing the award after it’s been done one way for so long is maybe not the best way to accomplish their goals – a new award specifically for LGBTQ authors sounds awesome, though.
  • Arthur A Levine is thinking about this same issue on his new blog, which leads him to some thoughts about making fiction more inclusive.  (Edited to add: Wow, also go read the comments on this post.  Some really well thought out discussion going on over there.)
  • Why are we making it so hard for our patrons to read ebooks?  David Lee King is absolutely right here – DRM is an issue, but it’s not the only issue.  Design and usability are important, guys.  Let’s not ignore them.
  • SLJ’s latest editorial is about that tool of censors everywhere, Comon Sense Media’s book ratings.  They do a nice job of outlining exactly why these ratings are less a useful tool for concerned parents and more a scary guide for folks who want to keep ideas out of the hands of children.  Liz Burns’ response, in which she takes a look at their transparency and comes to a new decision about Common Sense Media, is also worth reading.
  • We’re Number 3!  We’re Number 3!  (The third largest library by collection volume, that is, according to this new ALA fact sheet.  And #1 public!) Edited to add: Just took another look at this link, and they’ve added the branch library collections and bumped us up to #2!

Speed Reviews

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
World-building definitely takes the day in this one – it’s incredibly creative.  And the story is gripping.  I hope that we will see more of the world outside the prison in the next book – while the prison itself is interesting, the politics of this country that cannot use modern conveniences by law are the part of the book that really grabbed my attention. (Review copy provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter)

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
I thought this might be one of those books that is capital-G goofy in a desperate, “kids like this stuff, right?” kind of way.  How could I ever believe that of Adam Rex?  Is it goofy?  Absolutely.  Pitch-perfectly goofy, and all in the service of a good story.  Gratuity is a delight, especially in her relationships with her mother and J Lo.  As far as I’m concerned, this is the gold standard of goofy alien-invasion stories.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
Now here’s a YA dystopian novel with some serious teeth.  This is a world that is nasty, where everything and everyone is out to get you, but these kids are way too busy staying alive to whine about it.  Fast pacing, fantastic central relationships, and a story that raises a lot of great questions about environmental stewardship and class issues without ever feeling like it’s moralizing at you.  Nailer’s dad deserves a nod in any discussion of the scariest fathers in YA.  (Review copy provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter)

White Cat by Holly Black
Mobsters and magic, written by Holly Black?  Sold!  I didn’t connect with the characters in this one as strongly as I might have liked, but I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the world, and I will look forward to more in the series.

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
Honestly, this made me sad.  I was so excited about it, and then it felt like a faded rehashing of the Percy Jackson series.  I loved Basta, but she was the only thing in the book that made me care – or even made me laugh very much.  I’m hoping that maybe I was just in the wrong mood for this book – I’ll give the next one a try.  But I was definitely disappointed.

The Heart is Not a Size by Beth Kephardt
Lovely book, if not my favorite of Beth Kephardt’s.  She has that strange way of making it feel like not much is happening even when there is a good bit of story going on – and making that slow pace feel right.  The internal lives of her characters are so rich.  And we can add this to the pile of recent books for teens that address religion in ways that go beyond the obvious – a pile I’m pleased to see grow. (Review copy provided by publisher)

Sorcerers and Secretaries Vol. 1 by Amy Kim Gantner
Cute and relatable, but didn’t stick with me at all.  And the romantic interest drove me nuts.

The Demon’s Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan
Excellent second book in a series – does a nice job of avoiding the “middle book in a trilogy that doesn’t have it’s own narrative arc” pitfall that drags many a good series down.  The strange sibling relationship between Nick and Alan, which was my favorite thing about The Demon’s Lexicon, gets even more interesting here.

Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes
Read this one at the urging of one of my patrons, and it was just about what I expected from it – a sweet, quick read with a strong female character that will appeal to lots of my beginning readers.  It’s really exciting to see so many books for this age range with great POC characters popping up recently – a trend I hope to see reach down to easy readers soon as well.

Britten and Brulightly by Hannah Berry
Somewhere in between baffling and brilliant.  The art is stunning and perfectly suits the tone of the narrative.  Features some great old-school noir lines – the kind that make me want to put on some bright red lipstick and a hardboiled gumshoe accent and say hardened, brilliant things.  But I still have NO idea why he was a teabag.

Scarlett Fever by Maureen Johnson
I unabashedly love these books.  And yes, I am absolutely one of the hordes who are in love with Spencer – his deliciously silly plotline was the highlight.  This was even better than the first one.

I So Don’t Do Mysteries by Barrie Summie
I pretty strongly disliked the main character in this one, who had no faith in herself and very little curiosity, and I wasn’t ever able to get past that dislike.  I was also bothered by how easy the suspension of disbelief was.  But I know some kids who will like this a lot, so I’ll give this series another chance and hope for a little more character growth. (Review copy provided by publicist)

The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz
As a bit of a music geek, I appreciated a lot of the music-geeky characters – they shine when they’re talking about their favorite albums or making a mix.  But the romance subplots were obvious, and the exponential growth of her blog was unrealistic enough that it pulled me out of the story.

Plain Kate by Erin Bow
When Arthur Levine raves about a book and makes comparisons to one of his previous acquisitions, The Golden Compass, I stand up and listen.  And this fantasy did remind me of Pullman’s masterpiece in some ways – both authors show respect for their young readers by telling stories that are sometimes dark and always complex, without ever writing down.  And this is genuinely dark – much more than I expected it to be.  Russian folklore provides a rich base for Bow’s story, and her characters are wonderful.  This is one to watch for.  (Review copy provided by publisher at BEA)

The Half-life of Planets by Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin
A sweet romance between a girl who’s trying to get over her addiction to kissing and a music-loving boy with Asperger’s.  I did feel like quirky traits took the place of genuine character-building sometimes, and I was really annoyed at Lianna’s complete inability or unwillingness to understand how Hank’s actions are affected by having Asperger’s.  But despite those reservations, I enjoyed this. (Review copy provided by publisher at BEA)

Mistwood by Leah Cypess
I think this fell victim to too many Graceling comparisons – not that it wasn’t a good book, but it didn’t meet the extremely high standard that I had set in my mind.  The story is interesting, and the court politics are great – particularly anything that involved the prince’s sister Clarisse, who is a total Machiavellian ass-kicker.  I started to really enjoy it towards the end as Isabel began to realize exactly what was happening to her, which gives her a little bit more depth as a character.  (Review copy provided by publisher at BEA)

The Body at the Tower by Y.S. Lee
Another solid entry in this series.  Mary starts to actually acknowledge how distant she feels from her Chinese background and how eager she is to keep it hidden in public, which I would really like to see explored further – I thought it was the most interesting part of this book, and it was mostly glossed over.  But the mystery was entertaining, and the romance was still quite a bit of fun. (Review copy provided by publisher at BEA)

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness
Oh man oh man oh man.  These books kill me.  Todd and Viola have their final showdown with Mayor Prentiss, Mistress Coyle, and the Spackle, and it is a doozy.  Patrick Ness knows how to send readers on an emotional rollercoaster, and he has turned the volume up to 11 here.  I have rarely felt so physically battered by a  book.  I didn’t quite believe Mayor Prentiss’ plot arc – toward the end it was a little too much for me.  But that hardly mars a truly exceptional series.  I can’t wait to see what Patrick Ness has in store for us next.  (Review copy provided by publisher at ALA)

Gunnerkrigg Court Vol. 1: Orientation by Tom Siddell
A group of my library kids have been raving about the Courtney Crumrin series, and I’m planning to buy this series and hand them over to those guys.  It has the same kind of delightfully ho-hum response to really unusual situations, and similarly great characters.  I loved the episodic feel – especially when it means there can be a one-pager featuring Fox Mulder.

The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter
I wasn’t wild about the ending of this one, but it was certainly unexpected and I think will appeal to a certain type of reader.  However, the ride that the Hardscrabble children take to get to that ending is a terrific one.  The narrative voice is definitely the star here – although Great-Aunt Haddie and her castle folly threaten to steal the show.  (Review copy provided by publisher at ALA)

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
A younger, more innocent turn for Cohn and Levithan.  I really enjoyed the scavenger hunt conceit, and I loved Lily and Dash’s opposing feelings about the holidays – Dash’s bah-humbug compared with Lily’s cheerful-Christmas-elf cracked me up.  I think Lily’s relentless good cheer was a bit of a stretch for Rachel Cohn – it was definitely a stretch for me.  But as we started to see some cracks in her Christmassy armor I warmed up to her.  A sweet read.  (Review copy provided by publisher at ALA)

The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle
Engle is so good at getting to the core of her historical characters – their voices really shine.  And this is such a rich story, even with the very sparse actual historical detail that exists about Rosa and her husband.  I am starting to think that verse novels are an ideal way to tell fictionalized versions of true stories from history – the form forces the author to distill the story down to its most essential parts.  And Engle is the reigning champion of these historical verse novels.

We Hear the Dead by Dianne K. Salerni

About once a year, sad-eyed teens wander into my library, sigh, and tell me that their teacher is making them read historical fiction.  Now most of the time I can send the boys away happy – here in my library the words “Walter Dean Myers” and “Vietnam War” work wonders – but a certain type of girl groans at everything I pull out and casts sad eyes towards the Twilight books and whatever PC Cast happens to be on the shelf that day.  They’re looking for a little bit of the supernatural and a whole lot of romance, but it’s got to be realistic fiction with a strong historical bent.  And Dianne Salerni has found a story that a history teacher and a teenage girl can get equally excited about.

Kate and Maggie Fox only meant to play a practical joke, but their ability to make loud rapping noises with their joints – combined with a few strange coincidences – have the whole town convinced that the young sisters can converse with the dead.  And when their shrewd Aunt Leah gets involved, the girls find themselves in the center of the newly formed Spiritualist movement, with their services highly desired for seances and sittings. 

A rift grows between Maggie, who struggles with her conscience as their growing fame and need for secrecy make her more and more uncomfortable, and Kate, who is either completely convinced that their talent is genuine or a frighteneningly good liar.  The narrative is split between the two girls with Maggie getting the majority of the chapters – which is a good choice, since Kate’s chapters are told from the perspective of someone who is either crazy or an incredible manipulator, neither of which make her easy to relate to as a narrator.  Maggie, on the other hand, is easy to sympathize with as she is swept up in a series of events that are often beyond her control.

It’s a compelling piece of history – the kind of history that just begs for the YA treatment.  And Salerni has clearly done her research, both on the Fox sisters and on the period.  Details are vivid, and the narrative touches on other important historical movements of the time in interesting ways, particularly women’s liberation.  In the second half of the book, Maggie’s relationship with a famous Arctic explorer provides some wonderful opportunities to explore issues of class, gender, and power in the late 19th Century. 

While Salerni’s historical accuracy and clear love for the period and the story are welcome, they do lead to one of my pet peeves for historical fiction based on a  true story – Salerni’s desire to tell every part of the Fox sisters’ story means that this book is loooooong.   We Hear the Dead is strongest in the beginning, when the sisters were first caught up in their deceptions, and in the second half, when Maggie’s love interest provides a firm plot arc for her character.  The central part of the book, which relates a  part of the Fox sisters’ story that does not have as natural a narrative arc, did not always hold my interest as a reader.  A tighter focus would have benefitted the book and made it a little bit more approachable in terms of length.  Despite that reservation, Salerni tells an engaging story that will appeal to many teens.

Reviewed from ARC provided by the publisher.

June 2010 Reading Log


Middle Grade

Graphic Novels

Adult Fiction

Currently Reading

(Reading logs two posts in a row – how embarrassing!  I have so many half-written review posts, so hopefully I’ll get some of those up soon now that summer reading is up and running.)